Monday, November 26, 2007

Who You Calling "Greatest"?


Well, I rolled and I tumbled, cried the whole night long.
When I woke up this morning, all I had was gone.
—from Rollin' and Tumblin' by Muddy Waters

Well, it didn't happen, but it felt close. Our Pats got snookered by a great defense last night and were extremely fortunate to snatch a scant win.

Cliché warning: I'll both belabor the obvious and torture sports analogies here.

The game of if, if, if will surely play in Philly today, as it should here. In an era, sports and otherwise, that stresses artificially produced parity, fans here are hungrier than ever for superlatives. The best NFL team ever. Unbeaten and unbeatable. Absolutely dominant. Blah blah.

My Childish Ways

It took me back to the little wooden desks of elementary school. We early baby boomer boys often drew combat cartoons to amuse ourselves as teachers did their best. We were, after all, children of WWII vets, and American combat victories were integral to our psyches. We'd sketch crude soldiers, sailors, fighter jets, tanks, and warships. We'd pencil bullets, heavy shells and rockets.

Americans would invariably win, but there was an artistic bifurcation. Most other boys would stack the deck. There's be two or even more Americans for every enemy. Our side would overwhelm the other.

I was in the triumph over powerful adversity group instead. (It may have been from too much classics reading, like about Thermopylae.) There were many more enemies, but the Americans won anyway.

Since I started sneaking peeks at the girls in the next rows, I set aside my battle sketches. Yet, like so many of us boys and girls, I transferred such thoughts and feelings to the vicarious struggles of sports.

While living in Chicago for many years, my sister fell into the masochistic pit of joy of being a Cubs fan. Those lovable losers' ballpark was as packed as the frequent world champ Yankees' one. Somehow, the Cubs wins seemed to resonate with and reward the fans even more than if they were inevitable victors.

Never Been a Team Like...

What the Patriots lost last night in winning so unconvincingly were the fluff and other meaningless verbiage that has surrounded them, both here and beyond the whole season.

I confess that as sports editor of my high school newspaper, I suffered from the fan's/writer's disease. My thoughts, feelings — and story leads — claimed extremes and trends that objective reality and even short-term future events belied. They were fun though.

Now I confess that the bonhomie around here is much preferable to the whining that proceed it. The Revs almost won it all, the Celts leapt from the sewers, the Sox have a couple of world championships in my lifetime, and how 'bout those Pats?

The best aspect is not having to hear the keens and snuffles and snipes of Sox fans. With two World Series victories in this decade, they have let go their worst traits. From the early days, through the Babe Ruth trade, to decades of bumbling, Sox loses were always someone else's doing.

Surely the worst was the puerile whine that the Yankees bought their championships with fat salaries. Even the local papers' columnists shut up about that when the Sox spent like crazy, began winning consistently, and ended up with the second biggest payroll and the most expensive ticket prices.

If this...if that...previously substituted for "They outplayed us." That attitude is one of champions, and one that seems to be becoming part of the Red Sox Nation's mind. Give your lumps, take your lumps, knowing you have a shot if your efforts and the mysterious factors of fortune combine.

Forget "Greatest"

Now the Patriots are headed toward another Super Bowl and likely more unwearable, tricked out rings. Yet, we know that the scares from the Colts and Iggles, as fans there are wont to say, have grounded the zeppelin of sports immortality (block that trope!).

Sports commentators had already been pulling in members of powerful Bears and other teams to figuratively spit on the Pats. Ptui, their defense couldn't carry our jockstraps, and so forth.

It is true that the major team sports have used capitalism at its worst to enforce parity and prevent dominant dynastic franchises. It reminds me of my oldest in kindergarten when the kids were grasping same and different. "We have the same!" was the frequent, joyful yell from the three and four year olds.

The widespread ideal that any given season, any team has a chance to win its division and go into playoffs is risible. First, we long have had teams like the Cubs and Sox whose fans filled the seats even when their guys go home after the regular season.

Also, there are a large number of sports junkies who love for big, bad teams to dominate. If those are in their market, they can somehow feel a vicarious potency. If they are elsewhere, their team has a villain to hate and hope of overcoming.

It is no surprise that the Pats have lost the greatest-football-team-of-all-time contest. The rules and schedules are different enough that comparisons to teams of decades ago are bagels to donuts, the same but different.

The Sox and their fans seemed to be learning that they don't have to be obnoxious Yankee slanderers and show their inferiority complexes. It's likely with another World Series in hand soon, we can act like real champs, delighted and proud when the Sox win, and accepting their shortcoming when they lose.

Down in Foxborough, the Pats are fun and seem to be having fun. It hasn't been that long ago that Tom Brady came in timid and considerably less effective than now. He also has better support from his enhanced team. Perhaps most impressive, being able to do so well in this parity era is huge.

Leave the greatest-of-all-time debates to the windbags on TV and the bar stools.

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